Soc 380

As promised, here’s your lecture.

In studying deviance, there are two main theoretical perspectives used by sociologists: postivism and constructionism.

Positivism is characterized by an objective view of humans and of deviance. It postulates that humans can be studied in a similar fashion as other objects, like rocks. According to positivism, deviance is a thing in and of itself – some acts are inherently deviant. The theory is quite deterministic; a person’s environment and outside influences lead them to engage in deviant behavior. Positivist sociologists tend to study criminal deviance – that is, acts that are deviant because they go against formal social norms (the law), e.g. murder, rape.

Constructionism is much more subjective, emphasizing the need to account for human will and choice in studying deviance. In particular, constructionist sociologists insist that deviance is simply a label that society places on certain actions; therefore the important things to study are the labelers and the effect of labeling. Constructionists look more at law enforcement and how people can be mislabeled as deviants than at what causes people to engage in “deviant” behavior. They tend to study noncriminal deviance, or smaller crimes, e.g. gambling, prostitution.

Positivist theories

Anomie-strain theory / Goal-means gap (Robert Merton): Society encourages people to achieve success without providing equal opportunities for achieving it.

Anomie-strain theory / Status frustration (Albert Cohen): Lower-class individuals are unable to succeed in the middle-class world (particularly public education), so they create their own rules of success among their lower-class peers in direct opposition to the values of the middle class. This leads to the formation of a delinquent subculture.

Anomie-strain theory / Differential illegitimate opportunity (Cloward & Ohlin): When faced with the goal-means gap, the type of deviance that is likely to be embraced by an individual depends on the type of illegitimate opportunities by which the individual is most confronted. Criminal subculture – theft. Conflict subculture – gangs. Retreatist subculture – drug use.

Social learning theory / Differential association (Edwin Sutherland): If an individual associates with more people who are deviant than those who are not deviant, that individual is likely to also engage in deviant behavior.

Social learning theory / Differential identification (Daniel Glaser): If an individual associates with and identifies with more people who are deviant than those who are not deviant, that individual is likely to also engage in deviant behavior.

Social learning theory / Differential reinforcement (Burgess & Akers): If an individual has been rewarded for engaging in deviant behavior in the past, that individual is likely to continue to engage in deviant behavior. In particular, individuals who have been exposed to deviant ideas more than to conventional ideas are likely to begin engaging in deviant behavior.

Control theory / Social bond (Travis Hirschi): Most of us have a strong bond to society which ensures our conformity to social norms. We bond to society in four ways. Attachment to conventional people and institutions. Commitment to conformity, or time spent performing conventional actions. Involvement  in conventional activities that leaves no time for deviant activities. Belief in the moral validity of social norms.

Control theory / Reintegrative shaming (John Braithwaite): Society controls us through shaming us for our misbehavior. Disintegrative shaming involves punishment that stigmatizes the individual. Reintegrative shaming strives to bring the individual back into conventional behavior.

Control theory / Deterrence doctrine: Legal punishment deters crime, and must be appropriately severe, certain, and swift in order to deter would-be deviants.

Constructionist theories

Labeling theory: Those in power label the less powerful as being deviant. Once an individual has been labeled deviant, that individual is more likely to perceive himself as a deviant and therefore engage in deviant behavior.

Phenomenological theory: Deviant behavior can only be understood from the subjective interpretation of the individual engaging in such behavior.

Conflict theory / Legal reality: Law enforcement favors the rich and powerful over the poor and weak.

Conflict theory / Social reality: The dominant class in effect produces crime by creating and enforcing laws that target the subordinate classes.

Conflict theory / Marxism: The exploitive nature of capitalism leads to deviance and crime.

Conflict theory / Power theory: The powerful are more likely to engage in profitable deviance because they have weaker social control and greater access to deviant opportunities (white-collar crime).


3 Comments on “Soc 380”

  1. Jim Lewis says:

    I first ran into positivism when studying Nursing Grand Theory, and I discovered that it is diametrically opposed to my religious/world view. Then I ran into constructionism in other Nursing Theory, and it didn’t fit either. When I got through with my own analysis of what didn’t fit, I discovered that I have been practicing nursing for nearly 30 years based on a very Christ-centered theory of “love God, love neighbor, practice tolerance and kindness”, and despite what some theorists assert, I actually CAN be an excellent nurse without espousing any of the humanistic theories that claim to define what nursing is. (Wow, that was a long sentence!)

    But back to your post: it looks like you have a pretty good grasp on the two theories of social behavior!

  2. KHL says:

    Now I’m going to have to keep saying ‘phenomenological’ !! I can see how this could be a very boring class, even with a decent teacher.

  3. kendy says:

    Well, I think you’d make a good professor. Without knowing much about the subject, I was able to understand what you wrote. I like your simple, direct style and the way you broke down and simplified the many theories. Nice job.

    I disagree with mom, though, I think this stuff is very interesting, if you’ve got the right kind of teacher.

Be opinionated! We certainly are.

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